Pavlov and the Patient Experience

Posted by Kristin Baird on January 24th, 2017 • No Comments »

Say the name Pavlov and most of us recall the famous research he conducted with dogs, a bell and food. In his work with classic conditioning, Pavlov proved that he could evoke a predictable response (salivation) when an otherwise neutral stimulus (bell) was repeatedly paired with a positive stimulus of food.

In our day-to-day lives, we become conditioned without ever being aware of it. For example: I didn’t set out to conduct Pavlov’s classic conditioning on my own children, but yet I proved it with my then, 8 month old Lesley. As I was preparing dinner I noticed that periodically, Lesley would suddenly appear, crawling quickly into the kitchen smiling and smacking her lips. I was amused by this sudden behavior and wondered what she was doing. After a while, I realized that it was the microwave chime. Each time she heard it, she assumed that it was food for her because of the many times she had experienced the chime as I warmed up her food.  Incidentally, Lesley is now a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral therapy. But I digress.

My point is that our thoughts are responses evoked by stimuli. For example; when your phone rings, what is your response? Is it: “Oh good, someone wants to talk with me.” Or is it, “Ugh, who is it now?”

Dozens of stimuli evoke responses from us each and every day. It’s important to be aware of those responses because they have more control over you than you may think. I can remember a certain surgeon with whom I made rounds each day. As a newly minted RN, I’d see him coming through the double doors of the med/surg unit and would regard his appearance with dread. My immediate thought was, “Ugh he’s here. Now he’s going to grill me about each and every detail.”  When I mentioned to my manager that I dreaded these rounds she pointed out that I could keep dreading or consider how much I was learning from the rounds. She pointed out that by doing these rounds and contributing my nursing knowledge, I was honing my skills and earning his respect. She was right. I was learning more each time we made our rounds. I needed to shift my response in order to be more effective and happier in my profession. I re-trained my response.

The patient call light is a stimulus. What’s your response? If it’s, “Now what?” You’re probably not going to respond well. But if you see it as an opportunity to serve, you’ll behave in a service-minded way.

An email alert is a stimulus telling you a new work order has been submitted. What’s your first thought? A knock on our door saying that the CEO wants to speak with you. Do you cringe or look forward to the request? There are dozens of stimuli to which we respond each day without any conscious awareness. If left unchecked, your days could be filled with moments of dread or moments of fulfillment.

Our thoughts are conditioned responses but can change with awareness and a little thought restructuring. Start by becoming aware of your thoughts.

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Baird Consulting


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